This reading list includes authors with roots in Jamaica, Haiti, South Africa, Brazil, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. In an effort to find books which could be supplied by our local bookstores, I expanded the list to include writers in different parts of the global south. I hope when you finally see the list, you are excited but also compassionate with me as I try to overcome some of the barriers I am facing with regards to diversifying the local literary canon.
The reading list is for people who would like some structure, but as you can see there are so many recommendations already on this page, so feel free to start anywhere, that still counts as walking with me on this journey.
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn
Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis- Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars. From a much-heralded new writer, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.
W. W. Norton & Company
Brother I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat
From the age of four, award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph as her “second father,” when she was placed in
his care after her parents left Haiti for America. And so she was both elated and saddened when, at twelve, she joined her parents and youngest brothers in New York City. As Edwidge made a life in a new country, adjusting to being far away from so many who she loved, she and her family continued to fear for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorated.In 2004, they entered into a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Brother I’m Dying is an astonishing true-life epic, told on an intimate scale by one of our finest writers.
Penguin Random House
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard. With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.
Penguin Random House
Blood Drenched beard by Daniel Galera
A young man’s father, close to death, reveals to his son the true story of his own father’s end. The mean old gaucho was murdered by some fellow villagers at a Sunday dance in Garopaba, a sleepy town on the Atlantic now famous for its surfing and fishing. It was a sort of execution, vigilante style. Or so the story goes. The unnamed young man, who loves swimming in the sea and has no strong ties to home, strikes out for Garopaba without being quite sure why. He builds a simple life and tries to find out more about his grandfather. But information doesn’t come easily. A rare neurological condition means that he doesn’t recognize the faces of people he’s met, leading to frequent awkwardness and occasional hostility. Life in Garopaba gets complicated until it becomes downright dangerous. Atmospheric, both languid and tense, and soaked in the sultry allure of south Brazil, Blood-Drenched Beard announces one of the greatest young Brazilian writers to the English-speaking world. Daniel Galera’s spare and powerful prose unfolds a story of discovery that feels archetypal and builds with oceanic force
Penguin Random House
Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor
Bitter Fruit is the story of Silas Ali, his wife, Lydia, and their friends and family in post-apartheid South Africa as they try to move beyond a past that is both painful and unresolved. It is also the story of theirson, Mikey, a young man whose own identity crisis, sexual adventuring and search for his biological father are about to explode.
In the time of the butterflies by Julia Alvarez
It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leónidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas--the Butterflies.
In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters--Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé--speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from secret crushes to gunrunning, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human costs of political oppression.